Modern beer thrives on restless innovation. Each year, the nation’s swelling ranks of breweries–more than 8,000 and counting–release thousands of fresh IPAs, stouts, pilsners and other flavorful formulations. You could spend each day drinking a couple of new beers and never come close to trying them all, another new IPA tapped before you finish your last one.
To help you make the most of your beer drinking, we asked experts to help select the best craft beers across a variety of categories. Whether you pucker up for sour ales or pine for an old-school West Coast IPA, we’ve got your bases covered with the best ales and lagers.
Here are our favorite craft beers to drink right now.
Best Overall: Weathered Souls Black Is Beautiful Imperial Stout
Aimed at raising awareness on racial injustice, Marcus Baskerville, the head brewer and a founder of Weathered Souls in San Antonio, created the collaborative Black Is Beautiful beer project. Breweries around the world make a version of Baskerville’s rich and roasty recipe, then donate the proceeds to organizations promoting police reform, equality, inclusion and similar initiatives.
“This is the best beer of the year,” says Joel Suarez, a founder of Uptown Beer Society in the Bronx, New York City. “Breweries from all around the states began to follow this challenge in support of great causes.” To date, more than 1,100 breweries and counting have made versions of the imperial stout. Visit the initiative’s website to find breweries by you.
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Best Stout: Deschutes Brewery Obsidian Stout
Dessert-inspired imperial stouts might be all the (cavity-causing) rage, but we’re big fans of balanced stouts that you can sink your teeth into all night long. Chief among them is Obsidian Stout, a dark gem from the Bend, Ore. brewery.
“It delivers the perfect blend of roasty, chocolatey, espresso-like malts, with a healthy dose of bittering hops,” says Aaron Gore, a certified cicerone (beer expert) and the founder of Fresh Pitch Beverage Consulting. The stout’s moderate alcohol content—6.4% ABV—“makes it surprisingly easy to throw back several in a row,” says Gore, who sees Obsidian as “more substantial and interesting than a Guinness.”
Best Wheat: Allagash White
For a quarter-century, the Portland, Maine brewery’s Belgian-inspired witbier has been America’s standard-bearer for the style. “White will forever be the perfect wheat beer,” says Mandy Naglich, a food and beverage writer and advanced cicerone.
The seafood-friendly beer is spiced with coriander and orange peel, and the slight heaviness on the palate “really allows the complex spiciness of the yeast character to shine,” Naglich says, adding that Allagash White is her “favorite beer to introduce new craft drinkers to any time of year.”
Best Pale Ale: Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale
Since Chicago’s Half Acre debuted Daisy Cutter in 2009, the beer has become one of the Midwest’s most essential pale ales, worthy of a pilgrimage in its own right. “When I’m in Chicago I’m pretty sure I go straight to Half Acre’s taproom for a pint of Daisy Cutter,” says Em Sauter, an advanced cicerone and the founder and cartoonist behind Pints and Panels.
The beer’s biscuit-y base serves as a stage for fragrances that flit from a Pacific Northwest pine forest to ripe tropical fruit, creating a beer that’s “wonderfully drinkable with a pleasant tangerine-peel taste,” says Sauter. “I would fill a fridge with this beer.”
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Best Summer: Stillwater Artisanal Ales Extra Dry
Sake is the inspiration for Extra Dry, a super-crisp saison that’s suited for snacking on sushi and summer anything. Like its muse, the beer is made with rice that serves to enhance its feather-light body. “The flavors mirror a floral sake but the ABV clocks in much lower at 4.2%,” says Naglich. She finds the Stillwater Extra Dry to be the perfect beer when the temperatures stretch toward triple digits. “It’s a great beer for a picnic or the beach and will add variety to a cooler full of light lager,” she says. “I’ve yet to meet a dish at any barbeque or tailgate that doesn’t benefit from a light and effervescent farmhouse ale alongside it.”
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Best Red Ale: Karl Strauss Red Trolley Irish Red
In a beer world overrun with flashy double IPAs and cake-inspired imperial stouts, humble amber and red ales are often overlooked. Don’t make that mistake. The approachable, food-friendly style offers “balanced deliciousness,” says Jordan Gardenhire, the founder of Baja Brewing Company. “If I had my way, every brewer would have a red ale in their lineup.” He’s a fan of the award-winning Red Trolley Ale, from San Diego’s long-running Karl Strauss Brewing, founded in 1989. The brewery uses 1,000 pounds of caramelized malts in each batch of Red Trolley, which has a mahogany hue and flavors of raisins and rich toffee.
Best Fruit: Odell Brewing Co. Sippin’ Pretty
In late 2018, the venerable Fort Collins, Colo. brewery released this ruby-hued sour ale that’s seasoned with Himalayan pink sea salt, plus a fruit trio including guava, açai and elderberry. “It’s like drinking a tropical punch out of a beer can,” says Gardenhire. The tart, fruity beer is a “fine summer’s day choice,” he adds, noting that he likes to sip a can while sauntering around the dog park. The 4.5% ABV means you can easily crush a couple of cans during any afternoon.
Best Gose: Westbrook Brewing Co. Gose
The German beer style gose (goes-uh) is one of modern brewing’s greatest revival stories. A couple of decades ago, the salt-laced sour ale was all but extinct, a casualty of passing time and changing tastes. Now the style is experiencing a massive comeback, led in part by the South Carolina brewery Westbrook.
The usage of sea salt and coriander “sounds bizarre, but it makes the bright flavors of the beer pop without becoming overpowering,” says Gore. The seasonings give the beer “an almost citrusy, spicy quality that lets it hold your attention from the first sip to the last,” he says, noting that it’s the “perfect beer for warm weather and easy living.”
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Best Hazy IPA: Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA
One of America’s fastest-growing IPAs is Hazy Little Thing, Sierra Nevada Brewing’s impeccable take on the hugely popular style. The airtight recipe features oats and wheat, which contribute a smooth body and foggy hue, and a blend of six hops, including tropical citra and el dorado. This beer drinks smooth and fruity, the juiciness balanced by just a bit of bitterness. No matter if you buy it at gas stations, grocery stores or your favorite beer bar, Hazy Little Thing is guaranteed to be a winner.
Best West Coast IPA: Green Flash Brewing Co. West Coast IPA
Clean drinking, generously bittered and as golden as Southern California sunshine, the West Coast IPA helped usher in an aggressively delicious era of modern beer drinking. If you’re looking for a throwback that still tastes thrillingly fresh, grab a four-pack of this style-defining IPA from Green Flash.
“This beer is a great balance between old-school and new-world IPAs,” says Gardenhire, who praises the beer’s “complex hop and malt combo.” West Coast IPA deploys a quintet of hops to create a pungent scent of citrus and pine. “There’s a reason it’s famous.”
Best Pumpkin: Cigar City Brewing Good Gourd
Pumpkin beers have hit a rough patch in recent years. The fall ales went from wildly popular to kind of passé, victims of overexposure–and way too much allspice. “Many pumpkin beers are too, well, pumpkin-forward,” says Naglich. She gives two thumbs up to the strong and balanced Good Gourd from Tampa brewery Cigar City. Like a good pumpkin pie, this beer is sensibly seasoned with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and more. Good Gourd is “not too sweet and tastes like the first cool fall day: a reminder that you’re easing into a new season.”
Best Light Lager: Five Boroughs Brewing Co. City Light
The phrase “light lager” used to symbolize a beer that was low in calories, alcohol and taste, too. Five Boroughs, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., refuses to compromise, creating an unfiltered light lager that’s loaded with flavor. It’s made with German malts, spicy and herbal saaz hops, and prime NYC water, creating a “crushable” lager with a “clean bitterness,” says Suarez. “City Light dominates the light lager category without surrendering its definition.”
Best Nonalcoholic: Athletic Brewing Company Upside Dawn Golden Ale
Athletic Brewing is overhauling the nonalcoholic beer category with its lineup of alcohol-free sour ales, IPAs, stouts and other styles of craft beer. Gore is a big fan of the 50-calorie golden ale, made with organic malts and a blend of English and American hops. Upside Dawn is an “everyday beer that’s perfect for those looking to cut out alcohol completely,” says Suarez.
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Joshua M. Bernstein is a veteran journalist specializing in beer, spirits, food, travel and other thrilling ways of the world. He regularly writes for The New York Times, Men’s Journal, New York magazine, Wine Enthusiast and Imbibe, where he’s a contributing editor in charge of beer coverage. Bernstein is also the author of five books: "Brewed Awakening," "The Complete Beer Course," "Complete IPA," "Homebrew World" and "Drink Better Beer." He loves drinking crisp pilsners and all things lager.